McIlroy the star as final 2009 golf rankings revealed

Irish 20-year-old Rory McIlroy has emerged as one the stars of 2009 as the end-of-year golf world rankings were released today.

Into the game's top 10 from a year ago have come McIlroy, England's Paul Casey and Americans Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Kenny Perry.

Out go Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, Robert Karlsson, Camilo Villegas and Ernie Els.

The biggest climbers are US PGA champion YE Yang, who started the season 478th and finishes it at 31st, and Italian Edoardo Molinari, who has climbed from 653rd to 48th.

The biggest fallers are 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman, who suffered a wrist injury and crashed from 20th to 133rd, Australian Aaron Baddeley (36th to 139th) and Swede Carl Pettersson (62nd to 212th).

Tiger Woods stayed at the top all year, but came close to losing the world number one spot in March as a result of his eight-month lay-off following knee surgery and the gap is bound to close again now that he has announced an indefinite break to try to sort out his personal life.

As Woods approaches his 34th birthday on December 30 - not much to celebrate, you would think, either for him or his wife Elin when she turns 30 on New Year's Day - it is interesting to note that the majority of players in the world's top 50 are now younger than him.

Chief amongst them, of course, are McIlroy, up from 39th to ninth, and 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa, who has climbed from 60th to 30th.

But the old guys still had their moments. Kenny Perry, 50 next June, almost won The Masters and, much more amazingly, Tom Watson nearly captured a sixth Open title two months before he reached 60.

From a European perspective the biggest disappointment had to be Garcia. He started 2009 second in the rankings and had a chance to topple Woods, but never managed a top-three finish all year.

Yet Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, himself down from 121st to 252nd, still has cause for optimism about the match at Celtic Manor in October with five likely team members in the game's top 10 and nine in the top 20.

Moreover, 26 Europeans have already booked places in The Masters in April.

That list includes one three Irish (Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and McIlroy ), Welshman (Ian Woosnam), one Scot (Sandy Lyle), and eight English - Casey, Simon Dyson, Luke Donald, Ross Fisher, Ian Poulter, Oliver Wilson, Lee Westwood and Chris Wood, who like Dyson will be making his debut.

There will be also be three Italians, World Cup-winning brothers Francesco and Edoardo Molinari being joined by British amateur champion Matteo Manassero, who at 16 will be the youngest player ever to appear at Augusta.

Whether Woods will be there too remains to be seen. The problems that he faces - when will he be seen in public again for a start? - inevitably dominate the golf agenda heading into a new decade.

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